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  • Dr. Norbert Martin, DPT

How To Use Box Breathing as Your Stress-Busting Superhero

By Dr. Norbert Martin, DPT


Meditating class. Box breathing. Square breathing.


Feeling overwhelmed by life's stressors? You're not alone. However, an ancient practice that's still used by everyone from yoga practitioners to elite military forces could be your new stress-busting superhero against anxiety and stress.

Enter box breathing, also known as square breathing, a deceptively simple yet powerful relaxation technique with roots tracing back thousands of years to ancient yogic and Buddhist traditions. This controlled breathing exercise has been proven to activate the parasympathetic nervous system, which initiates the body's relaxation response.

By focusing on slow, deep, equal inhales and exhales, box breathing can quickly help reduce heart rate, lower blood pressure, and clear the mind.


"Controlled breathing isn't just a tool for relaxation, it's a way to take control of your physiology. By regulating the breath, we can quickly influence the autonomic nervous system."


The Science-Backed Benefits of Box Breathing

- Instant Stress Relief: Research shows box breathing can significantly decrease self-reported stress and anxiety levels in as little as 5 minutes.

- Improved Focus & Concentration: By synchronizing the breath, box breathing can quiet the mind's chatter and enhance cognitive performance.

- Physiological Relaxation: Studies demonstrate box breathing's ability to lower cortisol levels and increase calming brain wave activity.


Ready to Use Box Breathing as Your Stress-Busting Superhero? Here's How:

1. Start by finding a comfortable seated or standing position with a straight back.

2. Exhale completely through your mouth, expelling all the air from your lungs.

3. Inhale slowly through your nose to a count of 4. Focus on expanding your belly.

4. Hold your breath for a count of 4.

5. Exhale slowly through your mouth to a count of 4, expelling all the air.

6. Repeat steps 2-5 for 3-4 cycles or until you feel your mind and body relax.



Box breathing graphic

Box breathing is safe for most people, but if you have any lung conditions or other respiratory issues, consult a physician first or your physical therapist. The key is to avoid forceful breaths – keep it gentle and rhythmic.


Tips for Making Box Breathing Your Stress-Busting Superhero Habit:

- In the morning: Start your day with a few rounds to promote focus and calmness.

- Before stressful events: Summon your box breathing superhero to center yourself.

- During the workday: When overwhelmed by tasks, activate your superhero break.

- Before bed: Wind down for restful sleep with some calming superhero breaths.

- Set reminders on your phone or calendar or anchor it to existing routines.


Maximize Your Stress-Busting Superhero Powers:

- Focus on the sensation of air flowing through your nostrils.

- If holding for 4 counts is difficult, start shorter and gradually increase.

- Mind wandering is normal – gently redirect your attention to the breath.



Breathe sign


Box Breathing Variations for Your Superhero Arsenal:

- Inhale through the nose, exhale through the mouth (traditional method).

- Inhale and exhale through the nose (helpful for beginners).


The more you summon box breathing as your stress-busting superhero, the more effective it will become for managing anxiety. Unlike some relaxation methods, it can be performed anywhere, anytime – no equipment required. So, take a break from chaos and use your superhero breathing powers to calm the storm. This ancient technique provides a portable oasis of tranquility, helping you stay cool and collected no matter what life throws your way.


Want to learn even more stress-busting tips and healthy living strategies? Subscribe to my newsletter for exclusive content and expert advice delivered straight to your inbox!




References

Herawati I, Mat Ludin AF, M M, Ishak I, Farah NMF. Breathing exercise for hypertensive patients: A scoping review. Front Physiol. 2023 Jan 25;14:1048338. doi: 10.3389/fphys.2023.1048338. PMID: 36760529; PMCID: PMC9905130.

Bhandari B, Mavai M, Singh Y, Mehta B, Bhagat O. Rhythmic Breath Holding and Its Effect on Arterial Blood Pressure and Its Correlation With Blood Gases. Acta Med Iran. 2020;57(8):492-498.

Tavoian D, Craighead DH. Deep breathing exercise at work: Potential applications and impact. Front Physiol. 2023 Jan 12;14:1040091. doi: 10.3389/fphys.2023.1040091. PMID: 36711016; PMCID: PMC9877284.

Migliaccio GM, Russo L, Maric M, Padulo J. Sports Performance and Breathing Rate: What Is the Connection? A Narrative Review on Breathing Strategies. Sports (Basel). 2023 May 10;11(5):103. doi: 10.3390/sports11050103. PMID: 37234059; PMCID: PMC10224217.

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